Heartfulness Practice is an excerpt from Chapter 23 of Caravan of No Despair: A Memoir of Loss and Transformation by Mirabai Starr (Sounds True, November 2015).
With reticence at first, and then with mounting courage, I dared to mourn my child.
From the very beginning I suspected that something holy was happening and that if I were to push it away, I would regret it for the rest of my life. There was this sense of urgency, as if turning from death meant turning from my child. I wanted to offer Jenny the gift of my commitment to accompany her on her journey away from me, even if to do so simply meant dedicating my heartbeat and my breath to her and paying attention.
And so I showed up.
When a feeling I did not think I could survive would threaten to engulf me, I practiced turning toward it with the arms of my soul outstretched, and then my heart would unclench a little and make space for the pain.
Years of contemplative practice had taught me just enough to know better than to believe everything I think—how to shift from regretting the past and fearing the future to abiding with what is. In this case, a totally f*cked up thing. The ultimate f*cked up thing. I sat with that.
I did not engage in this practice to prove something to myself or anyone else. I was not interested in flexing my spiritual muscles. I did it for Jenny. My willingness to stay present through this process was an act of devotion. By leaning into the horror and yielding to the sorrow, by standing in the free space of emptiness and saying yes to the mystery, I was honoring my child and expressing my ongoing love for her. It was not mere mindfulness practice; it was heartfulness practice.
Our first Thanksgiving without Jenny was only a few weeks after her death, and Jeff and I were still in Hawaii. I was relieved to avoid a holiday dinner with my family. I didn’t think I would have been able to bear the empty place at the table. I was already making plans to skip Christmas.
We went out to a restaurant on the beach and ordered fish and pretended it was any other day. But my rebellion was hollow. I couldn’t maintain the façade of apathy.
“Let’s write down everything we’re grateful for,” I abruptly suggested. You’ve got to be kidding me, my embittered self said to my hopeful self.
“Good idea.” Jeff handed me a white paper napkin. I unfolded it and drew a line down the middle with a ballpoint pen. I wrote “J” on the left-hand column and “M” on the right, as if we were about to play a game of rummy.
“You first,” I said.
“Having had the chance to be Jenny’s stepfather,” he said, and I jotted that down.
“The community that’s holding me,” I wrote.
And our gratitude came tumbling out like rolling melons from a basket. The sunset over the South Pacific. Kirtan. My mother, and Jeff’s mother, and Mother Mary. Every one of Jenny’s idiosyncrasies, from the cackling sound of her laugh to the way she would wash her money and paperclip the bills on a string to dry. I wanted to collect everything about her and weave it into the fabric of my own life. I wanted to embody the best of Jenny—her fearlessness in the face of other people’s opinions, her joyful exuberance, and her deep quietude—and let these things make me a better human.
Her legacy would live in me.
Author: Mirabai Starr
Editor: Caitlin Oriel